By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





The Disney Dining Plan



By Dave Shute

OVERVIEW: THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)

(This page is one of a series explicating Walt Disney World lingo, abbreviations, and FAQ for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.)

There are several Disney Dining Plans available to guests at Walt Disney World resort hotels. The basic premise of these plans is that by pre-paying many of your meals, your budgeting is simplified, and, possibly, you might save money.

(See this for the official Walt Disney World website material on all of these plans.)

Only one of Disney Dining Plans–the “Disney Dining Plan” itself—is worth considering.  This site recommends that those eating all the meals in one of its recommended itineraries purchase it.

The rationale is that those with younger children eating a number of character buffet meals will save some money by purchasing the dining plan.  Not a lot, though.

Buying this plan, however, raises a couple of complexities.

First, to get the maximum value out of it, you really should eat at some of Walt Disney World’s best loved dining settings.  These can sell out months in advance, so you should follow this site’s advice on when your plans should be firm.

Second, while you are actually at Walt Disney World, there can be confusion about which credits apply to which settings, and what items are included and not included.  The itineraries of this site take care of most of this for you.

MORE DETAIL ON THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)


All of the Disney Dining Plans work basically the same way.

  • You buy the same dining plan for each person registered in your hotel room, for each night of your stay. (You can’t buy it for kids under three, and kids three to ten have special, much lower, prices.)
  • When you check in, you will be granted a certain number of credits of various types for each night of your stay.  These credits can be used on any day of your stay, and by any member of your party, except that you can’t trade kid table service credits for credits for those 10 and over.
  • So, for example, you could use none of your credits on one day, and have half of your party use all of your remaining credits the next.

The plans vary by what credits you get, and how many per night of your reservation.

The basic plan, called the Disney Dining Plan, is the one recommended for those following the itineraries of this site, as they will save a little money from using it for all the meals the itineraries present, rather than paying cash for all of them.

The rest of this page goes into much more detail on the plans, and is based on the wildly helpful The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit.

THE DISNEY DINING PLAN

Disney World dining is expensive. For some guests, it may even be the priciest component of the vacation, eclipsing the cost of lodging and theme park tickets. The three versions of the Disney Dining Plan (Quick Service, Regular, and Deluxe) are a way to prepay some of these dining expenses.

Years ago, when the Regular Dining Plan included appetizer and tip at sit-down restaurants, you could actually save some money by using these plans. These days it’s hard for us to recommend them, although the new-for-2018 inclusion of a single alcoholic drink per meal will improve the value payoff of these plans for some, and for others make the cost of the plans easier to forget.

Ignoring alcohol:

  • The Quick Service Dining Plan is priced so high that it’s only possible to break even or come out ahead if you use the credits solely for lunch and dinner. From there, you’ll need to order only the most expensive items to eke out a potential savings of a dollar or two per day.
  • At a cost just over $75 per adult per night, the Regular Dining Plan is expensive and saving money with it requires planning only the most expensive meals.
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan comes with three quick or table service meals per day at a cost of about $116 per night per adult. Users either spend three or more hours per day eating table service meals or use their credits on faster quick service meals, in turn reducing the value of each credit.

The addition for 2018 of one alcoholic drink for each quick and table service credit will change the value equation of these plans for some. Exactly which specific beers, wines, and mixed drinks will be eligible for these credits is unclear at press time—at least some of Josh’s preferred fancypants drinks likely will be excluded, while Dave’s $7 Bud Lights will be not only included but positively encouraged.

At press time, no quick service venues at Magic Kingdom offer alcohol, although that may quickly change. But those who would otherwise have paid cash for at least one alcoholic drink at most of their meals anyway will see an additional value of around $15–30 per night for the Quick Service and Regular Plans, and even more for the Deluxe Plan. This additional value may well turn the plans into more reasonable economic choices for those who imbibe in the ways that they reward.

(Also new in 2018 is the option of a single non-alcoholic specialty drink per quick service and table credit for those over and under 21—think milkshakes, smoothies, and such. Those 21 and over can do only one drink or the other. Those who would have paid cash for these anyway will also see value to the change.)

We suggest skipping the dining plans, with these exceptions:

  • Pricing on the Regular Plan is advantageous for visitors with kids under the age of ten that plan multiple buffets and character meals. The cash cost of a child buffet at many character meals exceeds their cost of the Regular Dining Plan for that day.
  • If you take comfort in pre-paying some of your dining expenses as a budgeting tool (even if this means you spend more money), the Quick Service or Regular plans may make sense for you—the cash loss may be worth the budget comfort. It’s nice knowing that food is pre-paid and users are free to order whatever entrees and desserts that they like, even if those prices are higher than they’re accustomed to paying.
  • Those 21 and over who would have had an eligible alcoholic drink at most of their quick and table service meals anyway may come out ahead, especially on the Quick Service Plan, which gives you just as many free drinks per night as the Regular Plan but costs about $23 per night less.

With or without a dining plan, the typical family eating their meals on property should budget $50–$75+ per adult per day, and between $20 and $40/day for the kids—depending on their ages and appetites.

THE QUICK SERVICE DINING PLAN

The 2018 Quick Service Dining Plan includes per person, per night:

  • Two quick service meals (entrée/beverage)
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort (or any other Disney World-owned hotel).

So a family of four staying for five nights would receive ten quick service meals, ten snacks, and a refillable mug each. For 2018, after tax pricing is:

  • $52.49 per night for those ten and older
  • $21.75 per night for kids ages three to nine

Ignoring alcohol, adult quick service entrees are typically $10–$14 in the theme parks. Add a $3 fountain beverage and your average meal comes to around $15. Eat two of those, in addition to a $4 Mickey Ice Cream Bar and $5 pretzel, and add about $2.50 for a day’s worth of the refillable mug, and you’ve come out just about even, after adding tax. Kids’ Picks generally come in around $7 each. Eat two and add a $3 popsicle and $4 popcorn and the use of the refillable mug, and you’ve covered the day’s cost.

While technically possible to eke out a savings of a dollar or two per day, those savings evaporate whenever you eat breakfast, when prices are usually lower, or whenever someone is forced to order something they ordinarily wouldn’t. It also makes it difficult to schedule a table service meal or character buffet since they aren’t included on the Plan. You can pay cash for such meals, but if doing so pushes you to using a credit for breakfast—or worse, ending your vacation with unused credits—the Quick Service plan will cost you money. On the other hand, as noted, the value of an alcoholic drink at each meal may well put those 21 and older ahead of the cost of this plan.

THE “REGULAR” DINING PLAN

The 2018 “Regular” Dining Plan—often known simply as the Disney Dining Plan—includes per person, per night:

  • One quick service meal (entrée/beverage)
  • One table service meal (entrée/dessert or select side/beverage)
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort (or any other Disney World-owned hotel).

For 2018, after-tax pricing is:

  • $75.49 per night for those ten and older
  • $25.80 per night for kids ages three to nine

Child pricing is advantageous with a cost just about $4 more than the Quick Service Plan. With several character buffets priced over $20, it’s easy for kids to come out ten dollars or more ahead each day they dine at such a venue.

For those older than 9, the price of $23/per day more than the Quick Service is harder to justify. There are meals where you do well—Akershus for lunch or dinner, after tax, is over $55. A day for family members older than 9 with a typical counter service lunch, a snack, and Akershus for dinner will cost less under the Dining Plan than cash. Dinner at Crystal Palace approaches this cost, as does Chef Mickey’s. Outside of buffets and ignoring alcohol, it’s difficult to find restaurants with average entrée and dessert prices high enough to cover the cost of the plan.

Let’s assume you’re spending the day at Hollywood Studios and select 50’s Prime Time Café for dinner. You select the second most expensive entrée, the $23 Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes, and the most expensive desse (Traditional Warm Apple Crisp a la Mode for $8) with a $6 milkshake as your beverage. With tax, the meal comes out to $39.41, which is $36 away from covering the cost of the Dining Plan with just a quick service meal and two snacks to go. At the costliest quick service, ABC Commissary, the most expensive quick service meal you could put together is $24 with tax. That’s about $6 higher than average. Even so, add a $4 Mickey Ice Cream Bar and $5 pretzel as snacks and you’ve only “saved” $10 compared to the price of one day on the Dining Plan after going out of your way to order the most expensive items at the park. If you had simply ordered the fried chicken instead of the sampler at 50’s Prime Time, and the burger instead of the Ribs/Chicken Combo at ABC Commissary, you would come out behind the cost of one day on the Dining Plan. On the other hand, the value of an alcoholic drink at each meal may well put those 21 and older ahead of the cost of this plan even for more “typical” meals.

The economics of two-credit meals are even worse. Signature restaurant cash prices generally are about 1.5x the cash cost of regular restaurants, but cost twice the number of credits, resulting in a lower per-credit value. For example, the most expensive meal you could put together on the Dining Plan at California Grill is a $53 Seafood Ramen, $14 Chocolate Pudding Cake, and $4 Coke. That’s $71, or just $35.50 per credit for the most expensive meal at one of the most expensive restaurants on property. To compare, Teppan Edo in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot offers several entrees for $32–$35. Add dessert and a drink and your single credit has a value of about $10 more than California Grill.

THE DELUXE DINING PLAN

The 2018 Deluxe Dining Plan includes per person, per night:

  • Three meals—either quick service or table service, as you choose. Table service meals include an appetizer where applicable, and all meals include the specialty and alcoholic beverage credit
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort (or any other Disney World-owned hotel).

For 2018, after-tax pricing is:

  • $116.24 per night for adults
  • $39.90 per night for kids ages three to nine

On paper, there is a lot of value potential here, particularly for kids under the age of ten and those over 21 who drink at every meal.

To maximize that value, however, you could be spending more than three hours a day dining—even more if you avoid two-credit meals—and building an itinerary largely around being at specific restaurants at specific times.

And let’s not forget the actual cost. A family of two adults, a 15-year old, and a 7-year old would cost a whopping $389 per night. For that, Josh and Dave will cook and serve your family of four both lunch and dinner, and offer all the Bud Light you can handle, while intermittently breaking out into song and dance.

 

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5 comments

1 Kelly B - Agent with Destinations in Florida { 04.10.17 at 5:15 pm }

Great Article Dave. The dining plan can take a lot to master. You have to know your family and their eating style. For some it’s not the best choice. For others, there is no better way to do Disney.

I think one thing that the dining plan does for me personally, is it allows me to splurge. To enjoy vacation. I know that everything is paid for. And I don’t have to be the cheap chicken if I want the satisfying steak. I can have anything and it’s all going to cost the same.

I also love how they have expanded the choices for snacks. You can now get things like soup, salad, and STARBUCKS!!!! Don’t just think sweets and snack carts. Be sure to look at quick service locations for more options.

And splitting up is no problem with the dining plan and magic bands. Everyone has the plan with them. So if your teens go off on their own, or mom and dad split up the kids – it’s no problem. The plan is attached to each person’s Magic band. No worrying who has the card or the money.

2 Jessica { 04.20.17 at 3:50 pm }

This year when we go to Disney we will have a split stay. We are also renting DVC points so we are not eligible for free dining if it is offered. Since we have a split stay, could we purchase the dining plan for the first part of our stay and not the second since they are different confirmation numbers and resorts?

3 Dave { 04.22.17 at 9:45 am }

Jessica, yes, you can!

4 Rob { 08.05.17 at 10:42 pm }

Hi Dave,
As I understand it, with the Disney Dining plan you have a fixed amount credits and a fixed amount of table service meals, quick service meals, and snacks. Is this correct, and if so, say if we wanted to go to a table service restaurant that required 2 credits, can we use one table service credit along with snack or quick service credits to make up the addition 1 credit, or is it considered 2 table service credits where we would lose an additional table service meal (credit)? Awesome website and thank you very much for any help you can provide.
Thank you,
Rob

5 Dave { 08.07.17 at 7:37 am }

Rob, with most of the Disney Dining Plans the credits you get are tied to meal types, so at table service restaurants you can only use table service credits. Thus the two credit meals require two table service credits.

You get a fixed number of credits, therefore, but NOT a fixed number of meals.

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